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The 2010s: A Decade of Unicorn IPOs and Billionaire Power

Last Updated March 4, 2021 2:40 PM
W. E. Messamore
Last Updated March 4, 2021 2:40 PM
  • The 2010s was the decade of the unicorn startup and the billionaire. The number of billionaires more than tripled. One became president.
  • Here are some of the biggest names over the last ten years – and how these billionaires used their money to remake the world.
  • Plus a look at the unicorns of the decade, privately held companies worth a billion dollars or more.

Billionaire Club Boomed Over the Last Decade

The number of billionaires in the world exploded more than threefold in the 2010s. At the start of the decade there were 793 billionaires  by Forbes’ count. In 2019 there were 2,604 billionaires in the world , according to the Wealth-X Billionaire Census 2019.

They made their fortunes off of everything: comic book super heroes, electric cars, social media, make up, cryptocurrency, hip hop, ride sharing, and slimming undergarments.

The United States is home to most of the world’s billionaires. With 705 people who have three commas in their net worth, the U.S. has more billionaires than the next five countries combined. Their combined net worth exceeds that of the next eight countries combined.

San Francisco has the highest metro concentration of billionaires  – one out of every 11,600 residents – followed by New York City, Dubai, and Hong Kong.

New Billionaires of the Last Decade

Former Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter led the march in 2010 after selling the comic book franchise to Disney  for $4 billion. He’s donated $50 million to cancer research.

Facebook minted a number of three comma magnates in the last ten years. Founder Mark Zuckerberg joined the Forbes list in 2008 just before the decade started.

Early investors and employees like Sean Parker, Dustin Moskovitz, and Eduardo Saverin followed him in 2011 . COO Sheryl Sandberg joined the elite list in 2014 .

In 2012, Elon Musk joined the Forbes list for the first time. He could have joined it twice, leaping from $680 million to $2 billion in personal wealth in five months .

Spanx founder Sarah Blakely made the ultra rich list in 2012 as well with 100% ownership of her slimming undergarments brand . She never spent a dime on advertising.

Kylie Jenner and Jay-Z closed out the decade in 2019 as “the youngest self-made billionaire”  and “world’s first hip-hop billionaire.” 

In just a decade of existence, the cryptocurrency industry has minted a number of billionaires , such as Ripple co-founder Chris Larsen, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, Binance founder Changpeng Zhao, and Ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin.

Billionaire Power in the 2010s

Not only were there more new billionaires in the last decade than ever before, but they seem to be more actively shaping the world. One even became president.

Donald Trump spent an unprecedented amount of his personal wealth on his campaign. Trump kicked in $66 million on his path to the White House  in 2016.

Now fellow New Yorker Michael Bloomberg, who’s worth 17 times more than Trump, is running for president in 2020.

Starbucks founder and CEO Howard Schultz, another three comma club member, briefly explored an independent bid for president in 2020, but failed to gain traction.

The 2010s was also a decade of unprecedented billionaire philanthropy. In June 2010, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett announced the Giving Pledge for the ultra wealthy to donate at least 50% of their fortune to charity. Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are on board .

As their power and influence becomes more conspicuous, the ultra-wealthy have taken center stage in the national political conversation . One congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), said they shouldn’t even exist.

A Decade of Unicorns

Privately held companies worth $1 billion or more boomed along with individuals worth that figure in the 2010s. Of the countless startups over the last decade, a few hundred of them achieved billion dollar valuations .

It’s astounding that so many companies that are worth over a billion dollars today didn’t even exist ten years ago. Instagram was launched in 2010, and sold to Facebook for $1 billion in 2012.

Uber was founded in 2009 and valued at $82 billion by the time of its initial public offering . Its founder, Travis Kalanick, just sold all of his $2.5 billion  stake in the company. After its founding in 2012, Lyft went public this year at a $24 billion valuation .

Other noteworthy unicorns of the 2010s include WeWork, Theranos (which has since been liquidated for fraud), Pinterest, Mojang, Twitch, Stripe, Juul, Caspar, Snapchat, DoorDash, Robinhood, Lime, Postmates, Glossier, Lemonade, and Coinbase.